Sgt. Jason Sparks, a native of Savannah, Ga. and door gunner for Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, scans for suspicious activity while providing air support for Marines from 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 15.
Story and photo by Cpl. Isaac Lamberth
3rd Marine Aircraft Wing CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan — An hour before the break of dawn, offices on the flight line here were abuzz with the day’s upcoming operations; one of which included providing close air support for Marines on the ground.
Prior to heading into a hostile area, two helicopters, a UH-1Y Huey and an AH-1W Cobra, from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, also known as the “Gunfighters,” fired their door mounted machineguns. The final function check of their weapons reassured the crew they would be ready to engage enemy forces if necessary.
After finishing their final tests, the duo flew south and circled a location suspected of containing IED-making materials as they waited for ground units to arrive and search the area.
As the sun’s rays began to touch the desert of southern Helmand province, a platoon from 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion arrived in MV-22B Ospreys, from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365, to check the suspected location as the Gunfighters provided overwatch.
Arriving from the north, the Ospreys landed in a cloud of dust. Within seconds of touching down, the Marines of 1st LAR poured out. As quickly as the Ospreys landed, they left, leaving the Marines on the ground to begin their search under the watchful eyes of the Gunfighters.
While the Marines of 1st LAR were on the ground, the two helicopters circled overhead, carefully scanning for suspicious activity and ready to repulse any insurgent attack.
Capt. Josh McClellan, a pilot with HMLA-369 and native of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., said providing air support is crucial to Marines in the event they are attacked.
“We are here to deter anybody from attacking the guys on the ground,” he said. “If they do, we can nullify the threat.”Lance Cpl. Devin Yang, a scout with 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st LAR said having 3rd Marine Air Wing (FWD) helicopters nearby was a comforting sight.“Seeing the Cobras [and Huey] made us all feel safer,” said Yang, of Tomah, Wis. “Since we are so far from friendly forces, they were welcome support.”
Sgt. David Garcia, a crew chief for HMLA-369, said the helicopters have large-caliber machineguns, rockets and missile systems which can greatly assist ground troops and save lives.“If they engage insurgents, we are here to help them out,” the Glendale, Ariz. Native added.
McClellan said fortunately the mission did not require the Gunfighters to engage but if they are needed in the future, they are ready to assist ground troops in a moment’s notice.